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Executive Summary

This year marks the close of the Petrie-Flom Center’s first decade of existence, and we are thrilled with what we have been able to accomplish in that time.  The Center began with a focus on developing new scholars and scholarship in the fields of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics through fellowship programs for students and post-docs, as well as a handful of events and conferences.  Since then, our goals have expanded dramatically to include not only these important academic pursuits, but also policy impact through sponsored research collaborations bridging legal, medical, and other disciplines.  Most notably, we are no longer only a research program comprised solely of individuals working on their individual projects, but rather a true Center made up of collaborators working on Center-based research with high impact and visibility.

In terms of sponsored research, we have made substantial progress this year on our work leading the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard.  In addition to providing guidance regarding legal and ethical issues that arise in other aspects of the study, we are drafting several reports and recommendations aimed at improving player health and well-being using the tools of law and ethics to complement clinical interventions.  We have also continued our work with Harvard Catalyst’s Regulatory Foundations, Ethics, and Law Program, hosting an international conference to develop a research agenda around improving recruitment to clinical trials, developing guidance for the use of social media in recruitment efforts, and conducting empirical research regarding perceptions of offers of payment to research participants.  Work on both of these projects will continue through the next fiscal year.

We have also launched a new sponsored-research collaboration with colleagues at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard Catalyst, funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This project involves a conference slated for Fall 2015 and a subsequent edited volume examining the legal, ethical, and practical issues surrounding research with human biospecimens, a critical step for advancing precision medicine. 

In September 2015, we will add another sponsored project to our repertoire, this one funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).  Collaborating with colleagues elsewhere at Harvard, our work on this project will focus on developing guidelines and recommendations for Institutional Review Boards, investigators, and patient advisors to employ when designing or reviewing human subjects research aspects of patient-centered outcomes research and comparative effectiveness research.

With regard to programmatic collaborations, we are proud to have another volume of the Journal of Law and Biosciences under our belt, alongside our partners at Duke and Stanford.  This peer-reviewed, open access interdisciplinary journal from Oxford University Press features world-class scholarship, responsive commentary, and “Notes and Developments” from graduate students at each of the collaborating schools.  The first year of our Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience was a resounding success, with a prolific senior fellow and a wide range of well-attended events on the law’s intersection with the neuroscience of pain.  We look forward to welcoming a new senior fellow this fall, and turning the focus to neuroscience and juvenile justice.  The Food Law Lab continues to grow, with important events and course offerings for students.  And finally, we continue extensive collaboration with our friends at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, co-organizing events and conferences, and most recently, the launch of their Master’s of Bioethics in Fall 2015.  

The Center’s public events schedule was again packed and popular, from short panel discussions to conferences spanning several days.  This year, we hosted events on human subjects research, FDA regulation, law and pain, the role of the family in medical decisionmaking, the Affordable Care Act, reproductive technology, medical tourism, Ebola and measles outbreaks, food law and policy, neuroscience and responsibility, and gender reassignment, to name a few.  Our 2015 annual conference addressed issues at the intersection of Law, Religion, and Health, and we have several book projects in the works from prior conferences including others on FDA law and applying behavioral economics to health policy.

The Center’s biweekly Health Law Policy Workshop once again featured the interdisciplinary scholarship of leading academics, and Center affiliates made important contributions to the Law School’s health law curriculum, offering seminars on comparative professional responsibility for doctors and lawyers, the Affordable Care Act, and law and neuroscience. 

Our Petrie-Flom affiliates have also fared well this year, with an impressive variety of publications and media commentary in leading outlets and collaborative volumes, covering such topics as medical tourism, the contraceptives coverage mandate, reproductive technology and freedom, blood donation regulation and organ markets, mobile health technologies, the Affordable Care Act, pharmaceutical pricing and innovation, procedural issues regarding Medicare claims, and the microbiome.  Our departing Academic Fellow has returned to the Department of Justice to work on ongoing issues related to the Affordable Care Act and legal challenges to the Medicare Program, and our current Academic Fellow is poised to enter the law teaching market this fall.  Although we do not plan to accept any additional Academic Fellows at this time, we are considering alternative ways to bring in promising post-doctoral and other fellows. 

Our student fellowship continues to be an important component of the Center, and this year’s fellows – representing HLS, HMS, HDS, and FAS – pursued projects on concussions in college sports, funding for global aid, regulation of tissue donation and payment, neuroimaging and criminal justice, transgender health, and vaccine exemptions.  We also worked with several HLS students as research assistants on our sponsored research and other projects.

The Center’s outreach has been expansive this year, reaching unprecedented numbers of interested people through our website, blog, social media outlets, and bi-weekly newsletter.  In fact, Bill of Health – now entering its fourth year – has cemented its place as a leading source of commentary from health law scholars, with nearly 18,000 unique users each month.

In the 2016 Fiscal Year, we look forward to continuing our sponsored research projects, supporting our Academic Fellow on the teaching market, welcoming a new crop of student fellows and visitors, and hosting a range of exciting events and conferences.  We have steadily expanded for the past three years, and currently plan to focus on stabilization and successful execution of our existing projects, as we gear up for a fundraising push to support our next phase of growth and development.

Our sincere thanks to everyone who supports our work.  We look forward to what the next year – and decade – will bring!